More about the brand platform
Actually, I’ll devote three blogs to this subject because the type and source of information will be different depending upon what you’re branding.
This post concerns branding a locally-owned retail company.
So first, why assess retail competitors in the first place?
You’re attempting to find a “position” in your prospects’ minds you can call your own – a positive, relevant position people will warm to. If a competitor already owns a particular position, you cannot own it, too. You must find another way to position and differentiate your business. It’s important.
Now you may have a good “feel” for your competitors, particularly if you’ve been in business a while. But performing the information-gathering process outlined below will help both you and those who will help you create your brand understand and appreciate the positioning landscape you’re competing in.
Only select competitors of significance
For most smaller businesses, assessing competition can be an overwhelming activity, primarily because of the sheer number of competitors in the market. Just look in the “yellow pages” for your niche and you’ll want to close the book and think about something other than differentiating your business.
But not to fear. First determine the geographic range your type of clientele would traverse to make a purchase. For an automobile or a hot tub, perhaps competitors in the entire metro area need to be checked out, but for a pizza joint or liquor store, just those within a three-mile radius is sufficient.
You may dismiss some outlets straight off as being competitors with “no clue” and no resources to compete with you. But be sure to include any franchised outlets competing in your area.
So how do you go about accessing the competition? First, get a digital camera. Then make up a checklist of those attributes of your business that are important to customers.
Ferreting out competitive information
Visit each relevant competitor. Take photos of their exteriors, their signage, their parking facilities, their delivery vehicles, their neighboring stores. Determine their relative size. Also, look at the makes of patrons’ cars, their dress and demeanor. Do they have kids in the car? What age?
Then go in. Assess the décor. Is it messy? Clean? Well lit? Coordinated? Take a look at the presentation of merchandise. Well-stocked? Fresh? Name brands? How about the personnel? Are they attentive? Friendly? Helpful? Knowledgeable? Well-groomed?
Make note of their “messages”. Any company slogans? Warnings? Bad-check postings? “Cutesy” signage? Menu boards? Prices? Specials? Is there a coordinated color scheme?
Then if feasible, do business with them. See how they deliver, service, follow-up, cross-sell and up-sell. Find out about their return policies. Do they push warranties? Service contracts? Frequent shopper programs?
Then I’d call them on the phone. Was it answered by a person or a machine? When talking to a person, was he or she friendly? Knowledgeable? Willing to help? Able to help?
Next, review their advertising ( and note those who don’t advertise). With a list of competitors in hand, media reps can sometimes cooperate by providing you with the volume of ads placed as well. After all, they will want your business. Check out coupon mailings as well as radio and newspapers.
Then, of course, there’s the Internet. First check for their web sites if any. Determine their interactivity on line, their consistent use of branding elements both on-line and off. And “Google” them. If there are local directories on web, check them out as well as any local forums.
Every chance you have, ask your neighbors and associates who they use and why. Try to get some measure of the satisfaction and loyalty each enjoys.
Prepare a checklist for each competitor
Once you’ve gathered all this info – a checklist for each competitor – you can begin to map the positions claimed by each. They may not, probably don’t, have a conscious positioning strategy. But since it’s really customers who position market participants, they will have a position.
You’re looking for a positive, unoccupied position on the grid that is relevant for your customer target and is obtainable by your enterprise. Your position must be creditable as well as relevant.
So, there’s the info and suggestions on how to attain it. It is well worth the effort because this is one of the most vital planks in your brand platform.